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When The Crocodile Smiles: Epilogue

Michael Wood brings his novel of 21st Century life in an imaginary African country to a most satisfying conclusion.

This is one story worth re-reading, chapter by chapter, from the beginning. Please click on When The Crocodile Smiles in the menu on this page.

The day after the Mackelsons’ departure, Beauty had also flown to London on instruction from her Secretary of State. It had all been very mysterious. She walked into the familiar ODD foyer. Once she had been given her security pass by the uniformed man on Reception – the friendly one whose name she could never remember – she sauntered over to look at the life-size bronze image of an African woman drawing water from a well. It was quite impressive really, with trickling water as part of the display. It made her mind turn back to Bakili and the North; her meeting with Rick. She knew then, in spite of all its problems, how much she loved it there. And suddenly, how much she loved Rick.

Minutes later she took one of the glass lifts to the top floor suite of offices from which the Secretary of State and her Private Office operated. Outside in the corridor, all the previous Ministers’ photographs lined the wall. How dull, prim and proper they all looked in their darks suits and their serious faces, posing for the camera. So unlike the colourful individuals whom she had become so accustomed to seeing in Zungula. Only Linda Chalker looked normal.

The Private Secretary greeted Beauty drily and asked her to go straight in. The Secretary of State was staring at a wall size map of the world and turned around when her visitor entered.

“Beauty. It’s good to see you. How was your flight?”

“Plenty of turbulence as ever, but fine thanks.”

“Good. I’m about to go off too. Ghana and South Africa.”

“Not Zungula then?” Beauty asked cheekily.

“No. That wouldn’t be appropriate at the moment. Anyway, thanks for coming over at short notice. I wanted to speak to you face to face about something which I’ve been discussing over the last few days with the Foreign Secretary. It’s about the person whom she wants to take over from Sandy Mackelson.”

“Oh. Then I’m a bit puzzled, Secretary of State. Why bring me over to discuss that?”

“Because that person is you.”

Beauty had been genuinely taken aback. She had little or no diplomatic experience. However Ministers had concluded she could handle herself well with the President, and she already enjoyed good working relations with most of his surviving Cabinet, and with senior players in the Dombe diplomatic community. There was recognition that her primary role would still be to manage the substantial aid programme and therefore DFA had agreed a Deputy High Commissioner would be appointed to provide necessary support for the diplomatic side of things. Beauty had not taken long to make up her mind but held her tongue while the SoS continued.

“I like your approach Beauty. We all think you’ve done marvelously in Dombe. It’s a difficult place and we appreciate the pressures you’ve been under. On which point by the way, I saw your letter to Jenny Townsend. She came running to me in the lobby of the House, complaining about you. I told her I thought you had sent the perfect riposte. She really is a tedious woman. Now, what do you say about the job?”

“I’m always up for a challenge,” Beauty replied smiling, relieved that she was not to receive a brow beating. “However I’m afraid there would be a condition to my accepting the appointment.”

The Secretary of State looked a little disconcerted. It was unusual for officials to make conditions on their Ministers.

“I would like one of the staff removed from Dombe and not replaced, at least not as long as I have a role there. He’s MI6. He behaved in a most underhand way with Sandy Mackelson. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder every five minutes to check that the spook isn’t up to something untoward.”

The Secretary of State looked admiringly at Beauty. This was a courageous young woman who deserved to go far, she thought. Later, calls were made between government departments. There was a bit of humming and hawing but Stainbury was posted back to London with immediate effect. By the time Beauty had returned to Dombe, he was already gone.

Beauty Musajakawa successfully carried out her additional duties,
providing an excellent bridge for improved DFA and ODD cooperation – so much so that the experiment was later repeated in other African countries where there were large British aid programmes. On completion of her tour, she turned down a London-based Directorship in favour of a two year secondment to the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi. Rick Holgate moved with her. They married on Watamu beach a year later.

President Elliot Joseph Chilembe won a third term of office. His smiling face appeared all over national TV and in the newspapers. Election observers from European countries, USA, Nigeria, South Africa and Namibia agreed unanimously that the process had been relatively free and fair. Vice President Kanyerere stood against Chilembe, some say by prior arrangement. After a heavy defeat he retired from politics and accepted a Vice Presidency in the African Development Bank (ADB). Lucy Kanyerere opted to stay in Zungula, traveling only occasionally to Tunis to see her husband.

With the help of a soft loan from ADB (on which presumably Kanyerere had influence), Chilembe vacated the Dombe palace half way through his third term, so that it could be converted back to the nation’s Parliament, which until that point, had not met again. The President returned to his palace in Kintyre, causing the endless commuting of officials and Ministers between there and Dombe, to once more haunt the donors. At no stage did Chilembe’s alleged madness materialize.

Sam Phiri was among those who vigorously supported the President in the election campaign, instinctively knowing which side his bread was buttered on. He was duly elected Member of Parliament for Machope District, at which point he resigned his position as Managing Director of the GMB. For his loyalty and superb handling of a large parastatal, he was rewarded with a position in Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture. One year later he took on the mantle of Finance Minister. He remembered Joe Tembo’s words to him nearly two years previously. “You have not yet reached such exalted heights.” Now that he had, he took centre stage in pressing for an intensified anti-corruption campaign. Donors resumed budget support after a three year gap. Phiri remained active in supporting his northern constituency base, ensuring a fair share of national resources were directed to Bakili local government.

Patience’s HIV test results proved negative. She and Sam agreed to give their marriage another go. They moved away from Chabwele, and now live in upmarket Area 10.

Following their return to Dulwich, Sandy Mackelson spent one more year with DFA before taking early retirement. Then he moved back to the fishing town of Anstruther on the Fife coast, after a forty year absence. Madeleine decided she needed more time to get over her husband’s affair with Lucy Kanyerere and in spite of her age, took up a position with Voluntary Services Overseas. To her utmost pleasure, the assignment was in Dombe.

Joe Tembo is still languishing in Dedza prison. Amnesty International, conscious of his circumstances, called for the release of all Zungula political prisoners. President Chilembe responded with an amnesty for some two hundred lesser known opponents, but no reprieve was granted for the former Finance Minister.

Noah Bamidele’s wife died of AIDS less than a year after the troubled time of her husband’s imprisonment. Noah could never forget that her demise was indirectly caused by his failed bid to steal a steam engine name plate on behalf of the British High Commissioner (who never compensated him for the time he spent in Dedza). However, Noah carefully managed the substantial sum which Sam Phiri had handed over to him. To the astonishment of the fat police sergeant, he even paid off his “debt” of 5000 Kwacha. Noah re-established his trading business and while his sons still attend and do well at school, he is also teaching them how to carve hardwoods.

Commissioner of Police Lawrence Chitambo retired from the Force unscathed and operates a small exotic fish farming business at the lake. He has been notified he may still be subject to police and Anti Corruption Bureau investigations into past misdemeanors. British aid to the police resumed when a new Commissioner was appointed, whose prime objective was conversion of the Force to a more modern police service.

The Bossons never returned to Africa.

****

Glossary

Are you there? – derogatory. Implies “are you with it?”
Askari – a soldier or guard (from Swahili)
bakkie – pick-up style of vehicle beloved in South Africa
bambo – Father. A term of respect
byamnoni – bush crickets
chambo – lake fish (a species of tilapia)
chibuku – locally made beer
chiperoni – mountain mist
chitenje – a colourful cloth typically wrapped around a woman’s hips to make a skirt
DANIDA – Danish International Development Agency
DFA – UK Department of Foreign Affairs
fundi – expert (from Swahili)
indaba – a large gathering of people, sometimes for a conference
jiko – basic cooker usually used with charcoal fuel
kali – wild or fierce
kanga – similar to chitenje
khonde – veranda
kwacha – local currency in more than one Central African country
Moni – hello
muli byanji? – how are you?
mzee – old man (from Swahili)
mzungu – white person
nandilo – pigeon peas
Ndili bwino – I am fine
nsima – maize porridge
nvemba – beans
ODD – UK Overseas Development Department
Odi? – anyone in?
panga – a cutlass-like blade used for hacking bush, chopping etc
phiri ling-ono – small mountain
shake-shake – a thin porridge like brew, fermented into alcoholic drink
shamba – garden, usually for growing vegetables (from Swahili)
shu-shu – potato like plant which grows on a vine
sing-anga – witchdoctor
Small – slightly derogatory form of address to one considered to have inferior status
watu – the people, or masses
WHO – World Health Organisation
zikomo kwambili – thank you very much











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